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Wendy Reuer, Published April 15 2012

Moorhead School Board turns down offer to broadcast meetings

MOORHEAD – Most area cities broadcast public meetings, giving taxpayers a way to watch their government in action.

Few school boards in the Fargo-Moorhead area do the same.

The Moorhead School Board recently turned down an offer from Moorhead Community Access Media to tape, edit and broadcast its meetings.

MCAM General Manager Tony Tilton said MCAM approached the school board with a very low offer, about $125 per meeting, just barely enough to cover the minimum staff of three needed to attend the meetings and do the work.

“(The school district) is the only major city function that does not have meetings broadcast,” Tilton said. “They wouldn’t have to incur the cost of installing the equipment like we’ve done at City Hall.”

Superintendent Lynne Kovash said the board decided not to tape its meetings due to the cost, which would average about $3,000 per year.

Kovash said public access to the broadcasts was also a concern. “It’s only cable TV; there are many people that don’t have cable.”

Community meetings are broadcast in Moorhead on Cable One and Midcontinent channels. According to Cable One General Manager Scott Geston, there are about 7,800 Cable One subscribers in Moorhead. Midcontinent spokesperson Tom Simmons said Midcontinent has about 5,000 Moorhead subscribers.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, Moorhead has about 15,300 households.

The school board decided at its Feb. 13 work study meeting to begin adding audio files of meetings to its website.

“We really want to be accessible to our public,” Kovash said.

Meeting minutes are also available online. Minutes include little discussion but do state any final actions on agenda items.

Twenty-six percent of a Moorhead resident’s property tax bill went to the school district in 2011, according to Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson.

Moorhead Councilman Mark Hintermeyer said broadcasting public meetings is an important form of government transparency. He said residents routinely bring concerns to him after watching the meetings on TV.

“I am amazed at the number of citizens that watch meetings,” Hintermeyer said.

In addition to regular council meetings, the city began broadcasting park advisory board, Human Rights Commission, planning commission, and Economic Development Authority meetings in 2011.

The city paid MCAM $64,600 in 2011 and 2012 for broadcasting services, said City Manager Michael Redlinger.

The Fargo City Commission also broadcasts meetings. Fargo Schools does not tape meetings regularly, but the People’s Press Project often tapes the school board meetings and posts them online.

Superintendent Rick Buresh said the school board has discussed regularly taping the meetings in the past.

“I’m sure it will be considered again, and someday it may happen,” Buresh said.

Buresh’s former school board televised all its meetings.

“I think it was helpful in communicating. Each community has to make their own decisions about that,” Buresh said.

Like Buresh, West Fargo Superintendent of Schools David Flowers also once served a school district that televised its meetings.

“I did encounter people that said they had watched the meetings. It certainly fulfilled a need,” Flowers said.

The West Fargo School Board does not broadcast meetings. The location of each board meeting is changed each month to a different school as a part of community outreach.

“(The school board’s) intention was to meet in the various schools so people could attend in a familiar setting,” Flowers said. “It would be a little complex (to broadcast meetings).”

The West Fargo City Commission broadcasts its meetings.

The Dilworth City Council is the only area city that does not broadcast meetings, although Mayor Chad Olson said he is certainly open to the idea.

“I’d be very welcome to the idea. I think we should,” he said.

Moorhead School Board member Kris Thompson was not at the meeting in which the MCAM proposal was discussed. She said she is not opposed to televising meetings.

“I think there’s some merit to the proposal, but in terms of the larger issues that we have to deal with, I’m not sure this is the right time to be focusing on that,” Thompson said.

Moorhead School Board members are paid $700 per month.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530